The mercurial nature of bullpens necessitates a fluid approach to their construction, and almost perpetual reconstruction.
As our contributor Chris Henderson astutely noted in a recent column, any given season one may witness, for example, a Rule 5 player excelling, and actually far exceeding expectations, such as in the case of Joe Biagini, whereas a high-priced “bonafide” arm might turn in a lack-lustre campaign.
This fact alone makes the “value acquisition” of J.P. Howell that much more prescient, shall we say: if he’s a bust we can deal him, if not, the Jays brass are geniuses and he becomes the southpaw the club has so desperately been in need of out of the pen.
This wouldn’t exactly be new territory for the likes of Shapiro and Atkins: last off-season, the team needed to add to its pen, so they went out and got Drew Storen, a brand-name pedigreed reliever. I doubt anyone at the time thought this wasn’t a sound move or that it would have actually detracted from the club.
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Oh how wrong we all were. Storen with his unique delivery didn’t acclimate well to the A.L. East (I cringe to recall his ERA which ballooned north of 8 at the time) and was unfortunately never able to reach the form he had once attained with the Nationals.
The most encouraging thing out of that whole story is that Shapiro and Atkins were able to flip him to Seattle for Joaquin Benoit, and add Jason Grilli from Atlanta for good measure. Neither move cost the Blue Jays much, and both proved crucial down the stretch, with both veterans factoring into the late inning equation.
So, regardless of what pans out with Howell, it’s hard to argue with the kind of value our front office was able to extract out of this move. On a 1 year deal and for just 3 million, Howell could end up being a bargain, especially compared to other free agent contracts handed out this offseason. Brett Cecil‘s 4 year, 30.5 million deal being the standard, we also saw Mike Dunn get 3 years and 19 million, with a less impressive track record than Howell’s, albeit a stronger 2016.
Thankfully we have some shrewd operators manning the club, and just as how they moved relatively swiftly with Storen once he didn’t pan out, one can be certain they will react without flinching to make upgrades as needed.
That having been said, J.P. Howell certainly seems like a decent pick up for multiple reasons, as has been stated in other columns on this site, and pretty much completes the team’s off-season shopping list. There could be (hopefully will be) additions to the bullpen, but at least the Blue Jays have a veteran left-hander to join the fold. Howell joins the likes of Grilli, Biagini, Roberto Osuna, and a host of others who will try and secure their place in spring training.
It’s just reassuring to know that the guys upstairs have no inclination for sentimentality and aim to extract as much productivity from our players for our fan dollars as possible.